Weakening storm passes over Haiti


Tropical storm Isaac strengthened as it dumped heavy rains on Haiti today, threatening floods and mudslides in a country where hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless more than two years after a devastating earthquake.

Tropical Storm Isaac emerged over warm Caribbean waters slightly weaker but ready to regroup after dumping torrential rains on Haiti, where thousands of people remain homeless more than two years after a devastating earthquake.

The storm was forecast to sweep over eastern Cuba this evening and strengthen into a hurricane as it approaches the Florida Keys on a track toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Lashing rains and high winds were reported along parts of Haiti's southern coast and in the capital Port-au-Prince, where more than 350,000 survivors of the 2010 earthquake are still living in fragile tent and tarpaulin camps.

Intermittent power outages affected the greater Port-au-Prince area earlier as Isaac moved across hilly inland areas of the severely deforested Caribbean country.

The centre of Isaac was about 150km east-southeast of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, this morning, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

A hurricane warning was already in effect in the Florida Keys, but the NHC said it was extending this to part of the southwest coast of Florida.

Isaac's march across the Caribbean comes as Republicans prepare to gather in Tampa, on Florida's central Gulf Coast, for Monday's start of their national convention ahead of the November presidential election.

The convention is expected to proceed as planned but Gulf of Mexico operators began shutting down offshore oil and gas rigs yesterday ahead of the storm.

The biggest immediate concern was heavily deforested Haiti, where Isaac's rains could trigger deadly flash flooding and mudslides.

The Haitian government and aid groups evacuated thousands of tent camp dwellers on Friday but many Haitians chose to remain in their flimsy, makeshift homes, apparently fearing they would be robbed, said Bradley Mellicker, head of disaster management for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"There's a lot of people who are resisting because they are scared of losing what little they have now," Mr Mellicker said.

About 3,000 volunteers from the government's Civil Protection office were sent across Haiti, warning people about flood and landslide risks.

About 1,250 shelters - schools, churches or other community buildings - opened their doors to house people seeking refuge from the storm.

But Red Cross officials said the number of shelters could be inadequate and prime minister Laurent Lamothe acknowledged Haiti had "limited means" to ensure public safety.

Red Cross and IOM representatives joined government officials in trying to evacuate 8,000 of the "most vulnerable people," including 2,500 sick and disabled, from 18 tent camps in low-lying coastal areas of Port-au-Prince.